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HPA - Scientists reveal new immunotherapy treatment option for C.Difficile

New research being presented today at Health Protection 2010, the Health Protection Agency's annual conference, will show how an alternative approach for treating and preventing Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) is being developed by the agency's scientists. This could in future be used in combination with antibiotics or as a replacement for antibiotics.

The treatment, called an immunotherapeutic, is in the early stages of development and would work by using antibodies which would neutralise the toxins produced by C. difficile which cause symptoms of diarrhoea.  

Dr April Roberts, who is part of the HPA research team developing the treatment, said "An immunotherapeutic approach like this, which is essentially a non-antibiotic therapy to both treat and prevent CDI would be hugely beneficial to the NHS. Primarily, it would provide a therapy to treat patients whose disease is not responding to antibiotic therapy. In addition, because the use of antibiotics can disturb the natural bacteria in the gut and lead to the development of CDI this treatment has the potential to reduce antibiotic usage which in turn would lead to less resistance developing against certain antibiotics.

"Although we have seen a substantial decline in levels of C. difficile in hospitals over recent years, a new treatment like this would be another huge leap forward in the prevention and treatment of the disease, particularly in those patients who suffer from repeated C. difficile infections. In conjunction with good hygiene to prevent the onward spread of infection, this therapy may provide an additional means of controlling C. difficile.

"The translational research to develop this treatment is at an early stage, but has shown some very exciting and promising results so far. We are hoping to be able to start clinical trials within the next three years. Initially these trials will focus on the use of a treatment which can be administered through an intravenous line and will be used on patients who are in hospital and in whom treatment may have already failed.

"We are then hoping to develop an oral treatment, which could be given to patients at higher risk of developing an infection prior to a hospital stay and could prevent them from developing C. difficile. It is anticipated that the oral treatment could also be used to treat milder infection with or without the addition of antibiotics."

Dr Christine McCartney who leads the Healthcare Associated Infections programme for the HPA and is the agency's executive director of microbiology services said, "This work is extremely valuable as it will provide us with another method of controlling and treating C. difficile infection, which will ultimately reduce the length of time some patients stay in hospital; save lives and save money for the NHS."

Notes to Editors

  1. Clostridium difficile lives naturally in the gut of around 4% of humans. It causes infection when antibiotics disturb the balance of bacteria in the gut and toxins are released. 
  2. The current antibiotics used to treat C. difficile infection are metronidazole and vancomycin. 
  3. The approach has already been proven in early clinical trials using monoclonal antibodies but researchers at HPA believe that polyclonal antibodies will be better able to neutralise the wide variety of toxinotypes associated with C. difficile infection. 
  4. The research is in being conducted in collaboration with MicroPharm, a UK Biotech firm based in Wales. 
  5. More information about Clostridium difficile can be found at www.hpa.org.uk 
  6. For more information, please call the conference press office on 02476 572982. The national HPA press office can be reached on 0208 327 7098/7750 or email cfipressoffice@hpa.org.uk 
  7. About Health Protection 2010 The Health Protection Agency's annual conference - Health Protection 2010 - is being held at the University of Warwick from 14-15 September. The conference offers a variety of innovative presentations which will demonstrate the latest scientific research and its practical application in three key areas of health protection - preventing and reducing infectious diseases, minimising the impact of radiation, chemical and environmental hazards and preparing for potential or emerging threats to health. To find out more information visit www.healthprotectionconference.co.uk


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